1902: 5 movies

posted 2012 July 16

Panoramic View of the Golden Gate
Produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company,
Shot in San Francisco, California, USA

   Riding the train-tracks of the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad route, along the bluffs and cliffs of Lands End (at the northwest corner of San Francisco), overlooking the Golden Gate and the Marin headlands. This movie feels like a roller-coaster, but one that traverses some hauntingly beautiful, barren cliffs. It's fun and romantic, and the foggy vistas keep getting more pretty after every turn. On top of that, we're travelling on rails that aren't in service anymore, and we're in San Francisco four years pre- the big 1906 earthquake.

Produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company
Filmed in the Biograph studio, New York, NY, USA

   Karina, Karina, I don't think there was ever a prettier actress than you. Thank you for the dance, it was charming and sexy, even if it wasn't as tricky and strenuous as some others I've seen. I don't know if you lifted up your skirt because that was a popular caberet dance or if you were just being naughty, but it works either way. You show us where art, cuteness, and sexiness all meet. 

La fée printemps
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca;
Hand-colored by Segundo de Chomón;
Set decor by Vincent Lorant-Heilbronn

   It's hard to believe this one is from 1902, considering how sophisticatedly it communicates. It's a lovely fairytale/allegory, with the surprises in the script leading to surprises for the eyes, namely bright colorful, springtime imagery. The flowers flying to the arms of the fairy is the big special effect, and it's quite spellbinding.
   The title translates from French as "The Spring Fairy". The story seems to be a version of a Russian story "The Snow Maiden", which had been a play and an opera before this movie version. 

A Tough Dance
Produced by Wallace McCutcheon;
Camera-work by Robert K. Bonine
Filmed at Biograph Studios in New York, New York, USA

   This movie shows Kid Foley and Sailor Lil doing a dance that was popular in the Bowery, also called the Apache Dance. It's a violent one, starting with a slap on the face, and interspersed with some flipping around of the dancers' bodies, and a lot of lowdown, mean gesturing, as if this weren't a dancehall but a wrestling arena. It's rare to see this mood in dance, especially in movies. It's a mixture of pain, humor, and seduction. The steps are wonderfully unexpected, especially the one at the end.

Charleston Chain Gang 
Produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company. 
Shot in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

   Yay, it's a line of prisoners! And guess what? All of them are black! You know none of them were unjustly convicted. Okay, sorry, but this movie enrages me, and I often let out my rage through irony. This isn't slavery we're watching here, but it's dang close. The director finds a nice angle which has the prisoners starting out far back on one side of the screen and then crossing over as they come up close and leave the frame. Just a simple display, like a catwalk. Was the director conscious of the injustice he or she was recording, or was the goal just to be the first to make a movie featuring real-life prisoners? Did they know what was happening? Did they know cinema? Did they get to watch the reel? Or were they even asked their permission to be filmed? These are some of the questions that come up for me while watching. Whatever the intention of the makers, this movie stands as a document of hard facts about our past, and gives us a refreshing reminder that the movie-medium shouldn't be concerned with entertainment alone, but should also serve as a barometer for how much we've changed in regards to race as well as other human matters, and how much we still must work to move further forward to justice.

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